Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Case 44/1999: The story of the Bulgarian medics who spread AIDS in a children’s hospital in Libya

Back in 1998, while investigating an outbreak of AIDS at the El-Fateh Children’s hospital in Benghazi –Libya, nineteen Bulgarians […] along with foreign and local workers were detained for questioning. Most were later released except for five nurses and an anesthetist all from Bulgaria in addition to a Palestinian doctor who were arrested for allegedly intentionally giving HIV contaminated blood to approximately 400 Libyan kids. What the international news media failed to stress on is that eight Libyans have also been charged in conjunction with this case. The Bulgarians, Palestinian and the Libyans all went on trial on February 7th 2000, on charges of deliberately injecting the children with contaminated blood as part of an experiment. Their trial has been an on and off thing since then. The Libyan prosecutors had demanded the death penalty.
I’m not going to discuss the Libyan health workers here because there was no outcry in the international community about their fate, and they have been out on bail since 2001. So they will be brought in the story when and if relevant.

But the case was thrown out of the Special Court in 2002 for lack of evidence to a security undermining threat, and the defendants were referred to a criminal court. Moreover, Professor Montagnier (The French doctor who first isolated the HIV virus) and Italian Aids scholar Vittorio Collizzi have studied the case, following a Bulgarian request for an independent international assessment. So Prof Montaignier was - to be fair to the Libyan courts - allowed to present his report in which he concluded that the AIDS outbreak was due most probably to negligence &/or bad hospital conditions.

On 6th May 2004, the court sentenced the anesthetist to four years in prison and he was going to be extradited to Bulgaria, but he currently still is serving his sentence at the Bulgarian embassy in Tripoli. The Libyan medics were acquitted, while the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death by firing squad. It must be noted that two of the nurses say that their confessions have been obtained under torture, but at the same time HIV infected plasma bags were allegedly found in their compounds. Anyway the alleged torturers are also to be tried .

The problem is the following there has been TOO much lobbying going on from the Bulgarian president and authorities and famous personalities and anyone who thinks he/she can gain from this exposure. Other lobbyist were from the EU, from Human Rights activists, the UN and even from President Bush which has politicized the case too much, tying their release with good relationship with Libya and even open blackmail by the West.

Since 1998, 47 of the children have died, that’s about 9% of the total infected. The Palestinian doctor has received a honourary Bulgarian citizenship and he and the nurses are appealing the death sentence. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court now and we shall see what happens. A compromise could have been reached if Bulgaria had agreed to compensate the Libyan families, and the EU had agreed to help in the treatment of the surviving kids (but the EU price tag was their release). And Bulgaria has refused as this is an election year and they don’t want to be seen to accept responsibility.

Because of all its lobbying and political pressure Bulgaria has managed to make a big political issue about a malpractice crime and may have alienated many people in Libya who would have otherwise been more sympathetic . The point I’m trying to make is that all these lobbyist and would be interceding people are not saying there has been mistrial or that the Libyan court is unfair and we have to bring them to justice again. I can accept that. No they are asking simply to have the Bulgarians released, presumably innocent and we will forget what happened. But hey wait a minute that’s not how things work! If Bulgarian authorities arrest a Libyan criminal, they will not release him/her just like this; they will try him/her in court and try to prove his guilt/innocence. I’m not good on international law but that is basically it , maybe if there are some other rules the Libyan may be extradited home to serve the remaining sentence years later , just like the Turkish guy who attempted to kill the late Pope , he served 20 years in Italy then was sent home to serve the rest of his sentence. Nope this is not what the Bulgarians and the rest of the Western world it seems want, what they want is simply for Libya to let the nurses go because this would be in its interest, it will open trade doors it will prove its respectability in their eyes, it will improve its Human rights record WOW is that it. That is what I call horse-trading. Everybody assumes that they are innocent, I don’t know if they are or not but I don’t like this attitude if it was a Pakistani nurse in Britain nobody would have moved an inch for her. What if the Bulgarians were not innocent? Let the court decide and stop interfering, try and help the court as much as possible and stop making it as if their lives were more valuable than others.

The Libyans see that the Western world only cares about these Bulgarian nurses and not about the fate of the Libyan kids (even the NY times noticed this) - after all until proven innocent they are still criminals or at least guilty of negligence or malpractice and that is a possibility even the Bulgarian authorities have acknowledged (negligence). The point is that even with negligence you can’t say ‘sorry I won’t do this again, I made a mistake!’ . This is not a wrong diagnosis or even a wrongly amputated leg, this is AIDS for which as far as I know there is NO CURE or vaccine yet, in addition to it being a very stigmatizing disease in any country- let alone in a Muslim country which lives by traditional ways. The only thing which is not ostracizing these victims (more than usual) is the fact that they are innocent children who could not have contracted this disease by the usual high profile ‘disgusting’ ( sorry no offense to anyone intended) means. But can you imagine their life, how will it be? They will eventually die in pain, because of lack of knowledge they won’t be able to play with other children normally for fear of being contagious, what about when they become teenagers? They will never be able to taste those first love pangs and no one will certainly wish to be married to them, first because of fear of contracting the disease even by practicing safe sex and second because when starting a family in Libya it means you want children of your own which would be impossible due to the high risk of virus transfer from mother to child. No body has thought about these children and their psychological wellbeing (let alone health) where is the UN, the EU, Bush or Amnesty International?

The international community has only focused on saving 5 European nurses who may be languishing in a Libyan prison. these prisoners get Christmas presents and family visits, they enjoy better conditions than the Libyan inmates and had a block specially built for them wow ! to which they were recently transferred , and I read somewhere but can't find the link anymore that they asked for air-conditioners because they could not stand the heat ! Hello this is a prison not a 5 star hotel and they still complain it’s cramped.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that in Libya we have thousands of foreign guest workers in the health sector for whom I am grateful as they make up the deficit. These foreigners are mainly Bulgarian and ex-Yugoslavian and from other Balkan states in addition to Philippinos and some Indians and Pakistanis. They enjoy an enormously better salary than the locals especially that it is in foreign currency and when US$ prices were high these people lived like czars in Libya. Whilst I’m sure many of them honoured their contracts I can tell you from personal experience that some of them could not care less, and even the fact that US sanctions resulted in the deterioration of Libyan hospitals and that probably some Libyan health workers were also unscrupulous does not give the right to foreign workers to treat the Libyan patients like 'shit'. I’ve seen it as some of them ruled unconditionally in the hospitals and clinics, and you don’t want to be on their bad side as they may not treat you or worse may give you the wrong treatment. So again I wanted to say that not all of them were angels and saviours. Whilst I don’t want to believe that the Bulgarians could have deliberately given AIDS to Libyan kids, because I’ve seen the state of the hospitals in those days (thanks to laissez faire and sanctions) , I will never feel comfortable again in the presence of a Bulgarian health worker because I may think that he/she will try to harm us for their sake ( a bit far fetched but plausible).

At one time last year in the mist of all the lobbying frenzy, I wished that the death sentence had been carried swiftly when the case was obscure and before it got all this mediatisation. Problem solved. Now I fear that even if they are guilty they will be found innocent to gain political points, and the real story is lost somewhere. I hope they are found innocent for their families' sake as soon as possible and because I’m fed up of this case, but whatever happens to them will not make a difference to the Libyan children.

Bulgarian and Palestinian medics

Libyan child

Libyan AIDS victims protesting.

For chronology of events read this Bulgarian site .

Inmates not satisfied with prison conditions read through September 2004 all the hoopla below are snippets :

-Bulgaria's authorities are trying to speed up the transfer of the five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya from the Judeyda prison to a special building built for them.

-Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Grancharova stated in Varna that the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure better living conditions for the Bulgarian medics.

-nurses sentenced to death in Libya have been moved to a special facility in their prison, the Trud newspaper reported Thursday. The paper said a new apartment block had been built in the prison yard and that the nurses had been moved into it...

-The five Bulgarian nurses sentenced to death in Libya are not satisfied with the conditions in the new building in which they had been transferred from Judeida prison. They claim the place was narrow and that there were Libyan women in the next-door room.


Anonymous said...

Fry the bastards..Thosem sick a**holes should be injected with aids and denied any treatment...


Anonymous said...

The whole situation is so sad. The Bulgarians are complaining about being mistreated but when I see them on TV they all look well dressed, wearing plenty of make-up, and hair that's well styled (and coloured perfectly). On the other-hand the victims of these crimes look pitiful.

How much longer will this trial last?

Highlander said...

redneck ...good idea ;)

anonymous 10:44:34 : I don't know what to make of the situation anymore, because the victims can't rest, can't get treatment, can't get on with their lives, while the Bulgarians at least know that it will either be the death penalty or freedom back home.

Anonymous said...

Libyan people so rock!

I love being libyan... btw your blog rocks!!!

Libyan Girl - From Oman

Highlander said...

The pleasure is mine Libyan Girl from Oman ..glad you enjoy it ! :) It makes me happy that other Libyans are reading me here wallahi ! now i'm curious how did you find about this blog ;)

AlanK said...


Have the hospitals not improved since sanctions were ended, was suprised to know that

also not sure execution would have helped as would have caused diplomatic problems, possibly delay end of sanctions and would not be good if they are found innocent in the end for obvious reasons

Highlander said...

not really Alan, travel ban ended in 1999, some other sanctions in 2003, some others in 2004.

Execution may not be diplomatic I agree, but other countries have gotten away with it why the outcry? Saudi Arabia has executed many foreigners. What I said was maybe they should have been executed ( if guilty) before it became a political issue.

A proud and compassionate Bulgarian said...

As you mentioned, there have been two highly reputable independent parties evaluate the case and they have both found that the reason behind the AIDS-injection has been hospital unsanitary conditions.

These people have spent the last several years in prison being emotionally and physically tortured; I don't think it's appropriate to judge what message they are sending by being "well-dressed" and wearing make-up.

I think the situation should be viewed from both standpoints.

Bottom-line, the nurses and doctors have already lost all normal life, trust me. What good would an execution do?

Highlander said...

Dear Bulgarian, I agree with you, I think you have seen that the situation is presented quite objectively here, bottom line no one has cared about the children. What about their emotional and physical well being ? that is the wrong I wish to see redressed.

Thank you for your compassion. The fact that the suspects are well dressed and groomed refutes the accusations of torture and mistreatment.
An execution if guilty ( notice the 'if' here) will probably be the only action to make the feeling of justice being done. However in Islam the victim is allowed to plead for mercy for the killer, so this may yet save them ..that is of course IF they are found guilty when this trial finally resumes.

As I said this case have been too politicized now and the truth is lost somewhere, victims and criminals have become bargaining chips in the game of international relations.